NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, January 5th, 2022

Media coverage of BlackBerry’s end of support for legacy mobile services high on nostalgia, but low on accuracy and precision

Yes­ter­day, Jan­u­ary 4th, 2022, marked the offi­cial end of sup­port for Black­Ber­ry Lim­it­ed’s once ubiq­ui­tous hand­set ecosys­tem for busi­ness­es and indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing Black­Ber­ry 7.1 OS, Black­Ber­ry 10, Black­Ber­ry Enter­prise Ser­vice, Black­Ber­ry World, and Black­Ber­ry host­ed email services.

In the com­ing days, the com­pa­ny will pow­er down and decom­mis­sion the back­end ser­vices that have long sup­port­ed its rec­og­niz­able hand­sets, like the Black­Ber­ry Pearl, Curve, Bold, Play­Book, Q10, Z10, Clas­sic, and Pass­port, leav­ing those devices with degrad­ed and lim­it­ed functionality.

It’s the end of an era, to be sure, and one that man­aged to attract­ed a huge amount of media cov­er­age giv­en how few peo­ple use Black­Ber­rys these days. Near­ly every well known tech press out­let had a sto­ry about the dis­con­tin­u­a­tion, and so did CNN, the BBC, NPR, The New York Times, and The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Near­ly all of the sto­ries I’ve seen about the dis­con­tin­u­a­tion have been high on nos­tal­gia while falling short on report­ing the actu­al details of the shutdown.

Con­sid­er these headlines:

Every lega­cy Black­Ber­ry phone will stop work­ing today
Clas­sic Black­Ber­ry phones will stop work­ing Jan­u­ary 4th
Black­Ber­ry Ends Ser­vice; Devices Will Stop Work­ing Jan­u­ary 4th
Clas­sic Black­Ber­ry devices will stop work­ing on Jan. 4
BlackBerry’s BB10 smart­phones are dead
Black­ber­ry to become non-exis­tent after today
The End of Black­Ber­ry Phones is Final­ly, Tru­ly Here
RIP, Black­ber­ry — Black­ber­ry phones will stop work­ing on Jan­u­ary 4

Today is Jan­u­ary 5th, 2022, and as I type this, all of my Black­Ber­ry devices are still work­ing, despite what the media report­ed yes­ter­day and ear­li­er this week. Oth­er Black­Ber­ry enthu­si­asts are report­ing the same.

That’s because while yes­ter­day was the offi­cial end of sup­port date for the Black­Ber­ry mobile ecosys­tem, it was­n’t the actu­al end of ser­vice availability.

There’s a lot of back­end infra­struc­ture in mul­ti­ple dat­a­cen­ters for Black­Ber­ry to shut off, and as many Black­Ber­ry enthu­si­asts expect­ed, the com­pa­ny appears to be pro­ceed­ing with a phased pow­er-down rather than a big bang demolition.

As of press time, Black­Ber­ry World app down­loads were no longer pos­si­ble, Black­Ber­ry Pro­tect and Black­Ber­ry ID were inac­ces­si­ble, and Black­Ber­ry 10 devices appeared to have been cut off from Black­Ber­ry Mes­sen­ger (BBM).

But call­ing and tex­ting and email­ing remains possible.

I don’t use a Black­Ber­ry as my pri­ma­ry mobile device any­more — I’ve migrat­ed to the iOS and Android duop­oly — but as a long­time Black­Ber­ry user, I’m track­ing the shut­down. I con­vert­ed my Black­Ber­ry hand­sets to what I call “muse­um sta­tus” ear­li­er this week by restor­ing back­ups from var­i­ous time peri­ods to them.

A collection of BlackBerry devices

Black­Ber­ry hand­sets from the ear­ly 2010s, rang­ing from a Bold to a Pass­port (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Even after the pow­er-down is ful­ly accom­plished and the rest of the lega­cy infra­struc­ture goes offline, Black­Ber­ry hand­sets may still be oper­a­ble to some degree. Their func­tion­al­i­ty will sim­ply be fur­ther degraded.

Any­one who’s still using a Black­Ber­ry at this point is quite used to los­ing func­tion­al­i­ty on their devices. It’s been hap­pen­ing for years. Many web­sites now throw cer­tifi­cate errors in the Black­Ber­ry brows­er, Face­book, Twit­ter, and LinkedIn inte­gra­tions no longer work, and Black­Ber­ry World, the com­pa­ny’s app store, dis­con­tin­ued app pur­chas­es a few years ago, leav­ing only free apps for download.

Black­Ber­ry Lim­it­ed has advised that its hand­sets should not be used for call­ing or tex­ting after Jan­u­ary 4th, which is prob­a­bly what prompt­ed many media out­lets to char­ac­ter­ize Jan­u­ary 4th as the day that clas­sic Black­Ber­ry devices will stop work­ing. But that was not an accu­rate char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Jan­u­ary 4th, 2022 was­n’t the day that Black­Ber­ry devices stopped working.

As men­tioned, it is even pos­si­ble, despite Black­Ber­ry’s state­ments, that Black­Ber­ry hand­sets will remain func­tion­al as phones for awhile longer… at least until car­ri­ers turn off their third gen­er­a­tion (3G) wire­less net­works. That’s not guar­an­teed, of course, but then, noth­ing in life is tru­ly guar­an­teed, is it?

Rather than gath­er­ing facts and then report­ing the more com­plex details of this event, a whole bunch of sto­ries appear to have been writ­ten on the basis of a press release and a com­pa­ny end of life doc­u­ment. A sim­plis­tic nar­ra­tive has once again pre­vailed over the more com­pli­cat­ed reality.

This is some­thing I see all of the time, and it con­cerns me. Rig­or­ous jour­nal­ism is sore­ly need­ed in these times to defend democ­ra­cy, stop trust in sci­en­tif­ic research from fur­ther erod­ing, and to sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion. Long-form inves­tiga­tive report­ing — which many out­lets are thank­ful­ly still fund­ing and pro­duc­ing — can­not and should not be the extent of rig­or­ous journalism.

I’ll have more to say about this sub­ject lat­er this week.

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